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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Self-Portrait Abroad

Jean-Philippe Toussaint

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To purchase Self-Portrait Abroad

Title: Self-Portrait Abroad
Author: Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 84 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Self-Portrait Abroad - US
Self-Portrait Abroad - UK
Self-Portrait Abroad - Canada
Autoportrait (à l'étranger) - Canada
Autoportrait (à l'étranger) - France
Self-Portrait Abroad - India
  • French title: Autoportrait (à l'étranger)
  • Translated by John Lambert

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing trifle

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 1/3/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Toussaint is a love-him or hate-him kind of writer, and this book perfectly illustrates why: there's no plot, and the narrator can be seen as either funny, sharply observant, and perhaps ingeniously ironic, or a clueless, narcissistic windbag." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Though billed as a novel, Self-Portrait Abroad looks and feels more like a collection of travel-vignettes -- scenes from abroad. As such, it also seems a preparatory work for Making Love and Running Away (which also take him to the Far East), a practice run of shorter pieces before he focused on a larger story.
       The pieces aren't entirely distinct -- there is some overlap of characters and events -- but unlike in the later novels, the digressions -- these small episodes and adventures, in Japan, Corsica, Prague, Viet Nam, and Tunisia -- are the heart of the matter. There is generally some (small) story to each episode -- the narrator participates in a boule tournament, he tries to visit someone in Kyoto -- but there's not much to them, regardless of whether it is a story of triumph (he does well in the boule tournament (as the episode's title, 'Cap Corse (The Best Day of My Life)', already suggested he would) or failure (the account of the expedition in Kyoto closes with the parenthetical note that the person in question: "wasn't at home, it turned out").
       "But enough of personal matters" are the closing words of the first chapter, "But enough of verisimilitude" the closing words of the second. Toussaint claims to want to shape his narrative differently, but he can't help himself. The first person narrator, the names -- "I will call Madeleine Madeleine in these pages to help me get my bearings" --: everything here is personal, everything presented in the guise of verisimilitude.
       Typically self-reflective, Toussaint offers loose pieces rather than a carefully structured self-analysis, but it is still fairly revealing. Though a very loose collection, lacking even the slightly greater cohesion of the later novels, it works quite well. And Toussaint does enough in how he brings it to a conclusion to give the appearance of having tied things together.
       Self-Portrait Abroad is a trifle, but an amusing small work that has its place in Toussaint's œuvre -- a preparatory work for some of the later novels.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 March 2010

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Self-Portrait Abroad: Reviews: Jean-Philippe Toussaint: Other books by Jean-Philippe Toussaint under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Jean-Philippe Toussaint was born in Brussels in 1957.

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